Rev. Rosemary Webb
29th June 2014
If God Can Love Us Why Can’t We Love One Another?

Like many people I have become interested in my roots and while I was on holiday we stayed in Inverness in order that I might visit the village in Sutherland where my great, great grandfather was born and perhaps many generations before that. It is reached by a slow ten mile drive up a very narrow road from the nearest village. It is now just a very small Highland hamlet comprising a church and a couple of houses with further houses along the track to it. It was so peaceful no sounds except our talking, and the singing of birds, no sound of cars, trains or planes and perhaps most blissfully mobile phones. Such peace that the beauty of God’s creation became even more apparent.

The Gospel reading relates to a private conversation between Christ and his disciples at Caesarea Philippi, which when I visited it some thirty years ago still had an air of peace and tranquillity. An ideal place for a quiet heart to heart discussion between friends; for Jesus to ask some questions. I suppose all wise leaders if they want to know what the people think turn to their team and this is what Jesus did – ‘who do people say the Son of Man is?’ Then he turned to the disciples asked ‘and who do you say I am?’ and Simon Peter answered ‘You are the Christ’. To which Christ replied you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.

At first glance it might seem somewhat bemusing why St Peter and St Paul are both remembered on this day – the reading from Acts and Matthew are very much centred on St Peter. And in life they had disagreements and even today some of St Paul’s views are not easy for many to accept.

In their lifetime Peter and Paul did not work closely together, indeed they are known to have disagreed in public. Peter, as we heard, was called directly by Jesus and given the name ‘The Rock’. Paul had probably never met Jesus face to face. Once a persecutor of the church, his conversion came about through a vision on the road to Damascus. His inspiration and his style of presenting the gospel came from visions and charismatic experiences, whereas, as we know Peter was alongside Christ during his earthly ministry, he saw him reach out, heal, teach and perhaps most importantly saw him suffer.

It’s a fact that there have always been divisions in the church. For the church as we know only all too well still argues on the role of women in the church, over homosexual relationships. It seems that whenever there is difference there are those who wish to cause division even hatred. There seems to be times when Jesus’ command we should love one another as he has loved us is totally. if not forgotten, then ignored.

The early church recognized Peter and Paul as the two pillars of the church of Christ. This is depicted in an ancient icon with Peter on the right and Paul on the left, each extending a hand with which they bear up the church. In this Icon the Church is sending a message that all her children should be united, in spite of individual and local differences, we need to unite in building up the one church of God.

Division among Christians today is a scandal that weakens the Christian witness to the world. How can Christian churches preach love and unity, forgiveness and
reconciliation to the world when they themselves are living in disunity, unable to forgive and reconcile themselves? I think it is a great joy that Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin seem to have frequent dialogue, seem willing to work together.

Churches may have different styles but that shouldn’t stop Christian unity, like the unity of Peter and Paul, it is not about our preferences it is about that one statement which unites us and that is ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

But as Christians who are taught to love all people I think we need to ensure that people of all faiths are shown tolerance and respect. We are all aware of the great sadness and worry over the number of young Moslems who are going to Syria to fight and what long term effect that may have. It is totally right that the Moslem community looks at how it is teaching its young but I think that as Christians we also need to stop and look at what society, and particularly the press, says and does. Look at some of the news headlines our papers produce. It’s not that many years ago when the Surrey Mirror carried the headline ‘All Moslems are terrorists says local Vicar’, not from this church I hasten to add, and that vicar did move away. We know it’s absolute rubbish, it’s no more true than all the citizens of Northern Ireland were bombers, or to put it on a local level –all people in Redhill are drug addicts – and all sensible people know that, but I think we have to ask ourselves what on earth did a headline like that say to teenage boys who perhaps feel they are bullied for their faith.

Our great meeting last week in the Parish Room came up with many good comments on outreach including more contact with people of other faiths and cultures. We do, I believe, need to get to know each other. Over and over again Christ called us to love one another and also not to judge lest we also be judged. Jesus’ words are no less important for us as today’s disciples than they were 2000 years ago. Whether we agree with what others say or do they are still a child of God.

I said earlier that celebrating St Peter and St Paul on the same day might seem somewhat bemusing, but I believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit in all his wisdom. Today I believe is a day that brings hope to all believers.

Peter was a bold follower of Christ, but he also made many mistakes – losing faith when walking on water with Christ and betraying the Lord on the night of His passion. In his early life Paul was known as Saul, a Jewish Pharisee who persecuted Christians in Jerusalem and as we know he was converted on the road to Damascus.

Two men who made dreadful mistakes; but who through confession and redemption through the forgiving grace of our Heavenly Father became the pillars of the Christian church.

God forgave them, forgives us – how much more should we be willing to learn not to judge one another but to pray for one another, to forgive and to love one another, as Christ has commanded us. For we are told that such is the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 16:13-10